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Minimum System Requirements
  • Video: Open GL 1.2 compliant graphics card & driver
  • OS: Windows 95/98/ME, NT4, Windows 2000
  • CPU: AMD, Intel
  • Screen Resolution: 1024x768, 16 bit color minimum
  • Hard Drive: 10 MB of free disk space
  • RAM: 64 MB
  • CD-ROM
  • NewTek's LightWave 3D 5.5 or higher
    3D Import Filters
  • .3DS - 3D Studio Object
  • .BVH - BioVision
  • .DXF - DXF Object
  • .FXM - Messiah Motion
  • .FXS - Messiah Scene
  • .HTR - HTR
  • .LWO - Lightwave Object
  • .LWS - Lightwave Scene
  • .MOT - Lightwave Motion
  • .OBJ - Wavefront Object
    Use it with
  • Stand Alone
  • 3D Studio Max
  • Lightwave
  • Maya
  • Cinema4D
    Abridged Feature List

  • Forward/inverse kinematics
  • Procedural/keyframe animation blending
  • Multi-target effects
  • Pre-managed interface
  • MotionBlenderTM
  • Functions (pre-compiled expressions)
  • AVI OpenGL Previews
  • MotionClipsTM
  • FlexMotionTM
  • Motion Capture
  • Soft Body Dynamics
  • Dynamic Morph Blending
    m e s s i a h : a n i m a t e 3.0 Review
    Review by: David Duberman
    Spectrum: Interactive Media & Online Developer News

    For years, software developer pmg has been a top name in LightWave 3D circles; its project:messiah plug-in program is used widely for character animation, including in some high-profile Hollywood projects. Now the developer is branching out with messiah:animate (m:a), a stand-alone 3D character-animation application that also works with 3ds max. The product will also eventually become part of a forthcoming suite that will include rendering software and an SDK for developing plug-ins.

    The user interface is similar to that of LightWave 3D's (LW) Layout component; the dominant feature is a large window, called the World View, with one, two, or four viewports onto the scene. Each size-adjustable viewport contains buttons to set the point of view, including the view from the selected object. The viewport also contains other viewport buttons that you drag on to move and scale the view. This latter takes a bit of getting used to, unless LW is your usual app. At the left is the command interface panel, whose contents are determined by which of the program's eight modules is active, and in some cases by the active sub-module as well. The command panel typically consists of a list of the scene elements above several vertically stacked modules, called "blocks" (equivalent to 3ds max's rollouts) each of which can be expanded or collapsed. The non-standard interface doesn't use a scroll bar or respond to the mouse wheel, so if a module is below the bottom of the screen, you can view it either by dragging the divider between the list and the modules vertically, or collapsing one or more modules; it's a bit awkward.

    As in LW, and a number of other 3D apps, the basic animation controls are grouped at the bottom of the screen. Here you can use the VCR playback functions and edit keys, and also like LW, this area contains a drop-down list for selecting an object. The program defaults to auto-key mode, where transforming an object creates a key at that frame, but you can easily switch to manual keyframing; a similar option exists for updating keys. A timeline in this area displays keys and lets you move them horizontally. And dragging the timeline upward reveals a curve graph that lets you change key values by dragging them vertically.

    The UI can be somewhat confusing; for instance, Save and Export functions appear in a section named Load Items. Also, when you position the mouse over a panel edge that can be resized by dragging, the mouse cursor usually switches to the standard two-headed arrow, but not always.

    Here's a real design goof: You can choose a specific channel to transform, such as x-axis position (xpos) from a pop-up in the viewport, or by pressing a number key. The pop-up shows the channel names, but after you choose one, the viewport button shows a number. However, the number is it shows is one less than the number you press to get the channel. For example, if you choose xpos from the pop-up, the viewport buttons shows 0, but to access the same channel from the keyboard, you press 1. That's not very friendly. Add to my list of gripes the fact that the program offers only one level of undo, and can't undo certain operations, such as adding a bone.

    On the other hand, the user interface has some very nice features. A toggle button in each window centers the current selection in the window. That's nothing new, but if you leave the button on, then moving the selection keeps it centered, while the rest of the scene moves past it in the view. This takes a bit of getting used to, but is very handy for positioning bones in a close-up view. No more having to manually scroll the window contents when you get to the edge, because you never do; as long as you keep moving the mouse, the window keeps scrolling.

    You change the Display Mode setting separately for each object in the scene (and, optionally, its descendants) by clicking a letter in the Item List. Each click goes to the next or previous choice, and with 10 modes available, this can result in a lot of clicking. pmg should have used a drop-down list, with full names rather than cryptic single letters, and/or keyboard input for this setting. At any rate, the modes include invisible, bounding box, points only, wireframe, flat/smooth shaded, and line view. Additionally, the weighted display mode shows a bone's influence on geometry, the toon mode shows inked outlines with no shading, and the anime mode shows inked outlines with smooth shading. The manual doesn't explain most of these, but they're pretty obvious once you see them.

    The Modules

    m:a comprises a number of tabbed modes; the active mode determines which settings and other features are available on the left side of the interface. To avoid writing a book-length review, so I'm going to rush through these, and suggest strongly that, if you want to know more, you download the demo and do the tutorials.

    File mode lets you load, save, and export files; you can export in LightWave 5.x and 6.x, .obj, .3ds, and DXF. This is also where you add basic objects such as nulls and cameras, copy objects with clone/mirror/replace commands, rename objects, set program options, and specify up to 25 project directories in addition to the default one.

    Animate mode is the command center, and has far too much functionality to describe in detail. However, much of the usage I describe elsewhere in this review takes place here.

    Then there's Compose mode, where you do non-linear animation editing. This is a powerful feature, and it's implemented well. Basically, you copy a set of keys to a clip, which appears as a block on the timeline, which you can then move, copy, scale, and scale with repeating. There's much more to it, but that will serve as a brief introduction.

    Setup mode is as important as the Animate mode. It's where you create and modify hierarchies, and add effects, of which the most valuable is Bone Deformation, about which more shortly. Other useful effects include Flex and FlexMotion, both of which enable deformation using control points on a spline; Flex affects a mesh directly, while the more powerful FlexMotion controls bones, which in turn deform the mesh.

    Command mode is where you set up and apply expressions, which let you apply mathematical formulas to your animations. This is done largely using a point-and-click interface. For instance, without typing, you can specify that one object follow another, using only one axis of the latter's motion. Then, with a bit of typing, you can make the expression a bit fancier, specifying, for example, that the first object should move twice (or half) as fast as second. It mostly works pretty well, but certain aspects of the Command mode interface weren't very well thought out. For instance, you can add elements from the scene to your expression by right-clicking a blank button next to a blank field labeled Buffer. Who knew?

    There's also the Edit mode, for working with keys; Play mode, for working with audio and creating animation previews; and Customize, for such functions as setting up lighting, toggling the auto-save feature, and saving motion in various formats.

    Animation in m:a

    Creating transform animation in m:a is straightforward. First, you go to the frame at which you want to set a key, and select the object to animate. The program offers several selection methods, including clicking the item in a list or middle-button clicking it in the World View.

    Selecting an object activates its edit sphere, a simple wireframe widget with buttons for translation and rotation actions. Depending on where you start dragging, you can move the object along a specific axis or plane, or rotate it about any of the three axes, described (as in LW) as heading, pitch, and bank. Transform operations can be counter-intuitive; often, when you want to move an object one way, you have to drag in a different direction.

    As you perform transforms in the viewport, a real-time numeric readout next to the edit sphere shows the change. You can use local or world coordinates for transforms by dragging with the right or left mouse button, respectively. However, using world coordinates can be a bit confusing, since the edit sphere always shows local orientation. Dragging the center of the edit sphere lets you perform planar translation, but I couldn't figure out how to translate interactively on the YZ plane in the Perspective viewport.

    The edit sphere works closely with the Motion block, which uses a spreadsheet layout for entering transforms from the keyboard and specifying channels to manipulate in the viewport. This lets you also use the edit sphere for gross manipulation, and the Motion settings for fine-tuning animation keys. Speaking of which, when you create Move keys, the motion appears as a spline curve in the active viewport. You can go to a key by clicking a spline vertex, move the key by dragging the vertex, and set each vertex's type to TCB--with individual controls for tension, continuity, and bias--or Bezier, Linear, or Stepped. It's very useful to be able to see and manipulate keys in the viewport.

    A large part of character animation is creating a bone structure, also known as rigging the character. Typically, for the arms and legs, you rig one side, and then mirror the structure over to the other side. pmg has made the mirroring step absurdly simple; you press a key, and it's done. Another important setup function is creating and modifying a hierarchy; pmg's elegant solution to this consists of simply dragging an item to its desired parent or child in the hierarchical Item List.

    When rigging a character, you have a wide choice of methods. You can add bones one at a time, creating the hierarchy later, or you can add a bone that automatically become the child of the one currently selected, and is positioned and oriented with respect to its parent. You can do either of these from the Skeleton block or, in "realtime" mode, by clicking in the viewport. A nice feature here is the Split Bone command, which creates two end-to-end bones from one, with both placed correctly in the hierarchy. You can split a bone in half automatically, or specify the split location.

    In some 3D programs, a time-consuming aspect of rigging a character is adjusting influence envelopes so each bone affects only the mesh vertices you want it to. But with m:a, it's pretty much automatic. For example, a one-bone rig controls the entire mesh. If you have two bones, they each control half of the mesh, more or less; of course, positioning is important. As a simple test, I added two bones to a T Rex mesh: one near the shoulders and second near the hips. If I then rotated the latter, the whole back half wagged, and rotating the upper one affected the upper half ... plus the fronts of the toes. Naturally, this isn't a realistic skeleton; you'd need a few more bones to animate the critter in a useful way. The main point here is that, although you can control bone influence regions manually if you want, you'll probably never have to.

    Other neat bone features: A bone can act as a muscle, so it stretches and contracts realistically in response to the motion of other bones. This requires a bit of setup, but is pretty effective once you get the knack. Also, the handy Slip setting lets you tweak deformations around the end of a bone, so you can control how skin bunches up when you bend the joint.

    Of course, m:a offers comprehensive IK features. Setup is a bit more involved than in some other programs, but this allows more flexibility. One nice feature is the ability to set, for each bone, which way it bends with one click.

    Connecting to max

    You connect m:a to 3ds max via a limited-function modifier plug-in for the latter that lets you use m:a for character rigging and animation, and max for everything else. Basically, the way you use it is to create the geometry (polygon mesh only) in max, send it to m:a, rig it and animate it, and then return it to max for texturing, lighting, rendering, etc. The data added in m:a is embedded in its modifier; the only way to alter the rigging and/or animation is to send it back to m:a. Similarly, m:a doesn't work with a max character rig, whether using bones or a biped from Discreet's character studio software. As long as you can accept those limitations, it works fine. I was able to create an object in max, rig and animate it in m:a, and then bring it back to max and add object-level transform animation with no problem.

    The Docs

    The program manual comes in electronic, HTML-based format only. It's fairly well organized, which is important, because there's a lot of information here. Unfortunately, it takes relatively little advantage of one of the most important HTML features: cross-linking. If you stumble across an unfamiliar term, typically you're on your own as far as finding out what it means.

    For example, at one point, a tutorial made a cryptic reference to an Apply function, which I had no idea how to use. So I used the Search facility to find "Apply," only to turn up no results, even though the word appeared twice in the tutorial I was working in. Another of the great potential benefits of electronic documentation is the opportunity to perform a thorough search, but it's apparently not as well implemented here as it might be, although I did find other search terms without too much trouble.

    The manual contains a good number of tutorials, and many of the illustrations are animated, which helps a great deal in illustrating concepts that would otherwise have taken excess verbiage to describe. However, these same animations, which repeat automatically, can be distracting when you're trying to read a nearby text passage; it would have been desirable to be able to turn them off. There are also two simple video tutorials: one on using bones and morphing animation together, and another on rigging a leg with a bones and applying IK.

    The tutorials keep telling you to make settings that are already made, so you're reading a lot of unnecessary instructions. Also, I reviewed version 3.2 of m:a, but the only manual available was for 3.0, so it was somewhat out of date. Last and least, the writing is a bit cutesy for my tastes, although it's wittier than other attempts I've read.

    Also, rendered animations are available from a camera icon that appears at various points in the manual. One of these shows Tia, an head-and-shoulders model of a girl whose face is expressively animated using a combination of morphing and bones animation, which would be difficult to accomplish in other applications. The scene file is included, so you can examine the sophisticated methods used to create the animation.

    Conclusion

    I've picked a lot of nits here, but that's my job; overall, I'm very impressed with messiah:animate. pmg prides itself on creating software designed by animators, and this pedigree shows. Basic animation can be created in m:a as easily as or more easily than in competing products, but the program is capable of highly advanced animation as well. The emphasis on character animation is obvious; its ability to create a full bones structure from a BioVision-format (.bvh) mocap file, which works flawlessly with .bvh files included with Discreet's character studio, is by itself almost worth the price of the software. The additional features, such as dynamics and particles (at least, once the latter is implemented), are nice, but not really necessary.

    messiah:animate is reasonably stable, too; it rarely crashed while I was using it. The software has its idiosyncrasies and some not-very-intuitive methods, but what package at this level of sophistication doesn't? Actually, among the idiosyncrasies is the fact that it's very much a work in progress; some features don't work yet. But even in its current form, it's a very capable piece of software.

    Before I conclude, I should advise you to take this review with a grain or two of salt. m:a is a large and complex program, and for this to be a fully authoritative evaluation, I'd have to use the software over an extended period of time in a production environment. But that's not practical for any number of reasons. Despite my relatively limited experience with messiah:animate, I can recommend the software highly to those interested in 3D character animation, whether in conjunction with LightWave 3D or 3ds max, or even without either of those. Combine its wealth of character-animation features at a reasonable price with an active and helpful community of over 1,800 users at Yahoo groups, and you've got a number of convincing reasons to buy this program.

    Don't take my word for it; download the demo from the pmg Website (see below for URL). It does everything the final version does except save. I also encourage you to join the project:messiah Yahoo group (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/pmGmessiah/) and ask questions of the users and pmg folks there.

    http://www.projectmessiah.com

     
    messiah : animation
    effects groups
  • Bone Deformation
    Fast, ultra accurate, and easy to setup. The response, even with hundreds of bones, is real-time
  • DMorphTM
    Simple way to play back object sequences.
  • Flex
    Control your objects with splines instead of bones!
  • FlexMotionTM
    Spline IK! Set up bones, then add a spline through them, now animate the spline points instead of the bones themselves.
  • Gizmo Player
    Many people still have morph animations created with the old "Morph Gizmo" plug-in for LightWave. This tool lets you use them.
  • Melt
    There are lots of uses for this beyond the standard "person melting into the ground" effect.
  • Morph Blender
    Control morphing with onscreen sliders.
  • MotionBlenderTM
    Blend between poses just as if they were morph targets!
  • Puppet MasterTM
    Puppet Master allows you to break your object into pieces and animate those pieces as separate objects, then have them "stitched" together into one seamless object when you render
  • Soft-Body Dynamics
    Real-time interactive soft-body deformations with collision detection!
    messiah : animation
    Expressions
  • Automation
    Just about anything can be automated, such as eye blinking, breathing, even complex mechanical things like bullets in a gun
  • Slider Controls
    Tie complex actions to sliders and use the sliders to animate
  • Setup switching
    Turn IK on or off during an animation (even blend between on and off!)
  • Dynamic parenting
  • Control or automate morphs
    Rotate the arm and automatically morph to flexed muscles.
  • Animation helpers
    Control the positions of objects
  • Control animation
    Use one object's motion to drive another
  • Muscles
    Turn any bone into a muscle with a simple point-and-click.
    messiah : animation
    General Tools
  • Save AVI previews
    The OpenGL previews you create can be easily saved as AVIs for later viewing
  • Character Groups
    Assign characters, parts of characters, or even motion channels to specific groups
  • Audio
    Load wav files and see them displayed in the motion graph
  • Camera Reticle
  • Auto-Save
  • Motion editing
    A complete set of tools for editing motion splines
  • Motion Capture
    Directly read in BioVision format motion capture files
    messiah : animation
    Essential Links
    pmG
    Developers of messiah animate


    Yahoo Groups - pmGmessiah
    Official mailing list for pmG:messiah


    project:messiah Siggraph 2001 Reel
    This is a collection of projects that were done around the world over the past couple of years using project:messiah 1.5.